Mississippi State report card: A disappointing senior night for the Bulldogs
Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss 38-27 on Saturday night in a game that started as a blowout and then — despite a Bulldogs comeback — ended feeling like one.
Here are the grades the Bulldogs deserve based on their performance.
Last week, in one of his best showings of the year, quarterback Dak Prescott had an unusually lackluster quarter — the third — where he threw an interception on the first drive, then fumbled on the second. It allowed Arkansas back in a game the Bulldogs were poised to run away with.
Against Ole Miss, that version of Prescott reared its ugly head in the opening frame of the game. Prescott fumbled on the Bulldogs’ first drive, which led to a Rebel touchdown. Following a three-and-out on the second drive, the quarterback threw a pick-six on the Bulldogs’ third possession and all of a sudden, Mississippi State was staring down the barrel of a 21-0 deficit. For the final three quarters, Prescott threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score — while getting the ball to receiver Fred Ross 12 times to help him set a new single-season MSU record for receptions (81) — but it wasn’t enough to ever cut Ole Miss’ lead to one possession.
Last week, coach Dan Mullen told his team not to confuse great offense with bad defense. I’m sure he didn’t want to be repeating that speech after the Egg Bowl, but it certainly applies again. The Rebels didn’t break too many big plays against Mississippi State — no Ole Miss play went for more than 40 yards — but the constant pounding from quarterback Chad Kelly’s arm and a well-rounded rushing attack were enough to keep the Bulldogs at bay for the entire game. Kelly threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 74 and a score. On senior night in Starkville, the Rebels took the momentum on the opening drive of the night and held onto it for 60 minutes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
For the first time in three weeks, the special teams unit was not part of a monumental play in the game — good or bad. Two weeks ago, Mississippi State surrendered a 69-yard punt return to Alabama that opened the floodgates for the Crimson Tide. Last week, against Arkansas, junior linebacker Beniquez Brown blocked a last-minute field goal attempt by the Razorbacks to seal a 51-50 win for the Bulldogs.
Against Ole Miss, the Bulldogs only allowed two punt returns and one kickoff return for a total of 10 yards, and sophomore Westin Graves hit his only field goal attempts from 22 and 27 yards.
The only slip-up of the night happened late in the game, when an onside kick bounced off of an Ole Miss player and through the hands of a Bulldog. But even if they had managed to recover that kick — with just more than a minute left and down by 11 — a win was almost certainly out of the question.
Mullen said he told his players to relax when they went down 21-0 in the first quarter. If only he had told them sooner. Mississippi State outscored Ole Miss 27-17 the rest of the game, but it was too big of a hole to crawl out of.
An emotional — and loud — senior night was deflated within 10 minutes of the opening kick. Ole Miss was able to capitalize on turnovers — scoring on a pick-six and on the drive following a fumble — while the Mississippi State defense was unable to force a single one. The game was practically over after the first 15 minutes, as Ole Miss led 21-0 and the air had been sucked out of an emotional Davis Wade Stadium on senior night. Yes, Mississippi State was able to bounce back somewhat, outplaying the Rebels in the final three quarters, but a deadly first was all that mattered on the night. Focusing on anything but that first-quarter meltdown is akin to asking, “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”